Apra Harbor, Guam
This morning, with wind and waves still punishing the ship, we arrived at the high-cliff island of Guam. Just before we turned into the blue sanctuary of Apra Harbor, Mother Ocean reminded us again how unpredictable and malicious she is. A member of the sub team was opening a door in his cabin just as the ship took a savage roll to port. His bare foot skidded on the sloping floor and struck the leg of a chair. The deep split between his third and fourth toes required five stitches from the expedition’s physician, Dr. Glenn Singleman.
Guam is the southernmost and largest of the Mariana Islands. Its 212 square miles (549 square kilometers) of bluffs and hills were created by the collision of the Philippine and Pacific tectonic plates. Earthquakes and typhoons are a common thread in its colorful history. Thirty miles (48 kilometers) long, the island lies northeast of the Challenger Deep in a part of the world known as “typhoon alley.”
Guam is a territory of the United States and a major base for the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet. As it was for the Trieste, Walsh, and Piccard in 1960, its big, west-facing harbor is the final staging point for our dives at the Challenger Deep. Today and tomorrow, the Mermaid Sapphire will take on 250 tons of fuel and tons of general supplies. A second ship, the Barakuda, has been chartered for the next leg. The new home of the science and lander teams is a 128-foot-long (39-meter-long), 363-ton survey and diving support vessel with a 10-ton A-frame on her main deck and accommodation for 13 passengers.
Old friends and colleagues are joining us. They include Don Walsh, whom we saw eight weeks ago in Sydney; Anatoly Sagalevitch from the Russian Academy of Sciences; Lisa Truitt, president of Cinema Ventures at National Geographic; Dr. Kevin Hand from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and Dr. Patricia Fryer of the University of Hawai‘i. Jim is back on the ship after a four-day absence. He and the 3-D film crew stayed behind in Papua New Guinea to film marine life on the coral reefs and a spectacular fire dance in the highlands of New Britain Island.
To see all these people and the tons of equipment and supplies being loaded on board the two ships is to be reminded that the expedition is made possible by hundreds of men and women—wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, friends, supporters, and suppliers in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They’re not on the ship’s manifest, but they’re the muscle and spirit behind our mission.
Photograph by Joe MacInnis